Beauty and the Beast is a feminist tale disguised

De Beaumont was a celebrated fairytale writer who published 70 books during her career. Beauty and the Beast, rather than being a fable or fantasy, is more of a critique of women’s rights at the time.

It may be surprising to some, but de Beaumont has written other works that make sense.

The original Belle

The writer had translated Madame de Ganges before adapting Beauty, which was based on the true-life tragedy of Diane Elisabeth de Rossan. The story of the protagonist is a sad one: a beautiful, wealthy, and virtuous woman who remarries when she becomes widowed. However, she makes a bad choice and marries an envious husband who has two evil brothers in love with her. They are so angry when neither of them succeeds at corrupting her virtue that they murder her with her husband’s approval.

The heroine must choose between poisoning, stabbing, or firing to die. In a surprising twist, Madame de Ganges is forced to take the poison and is then stabbed, shot, or both by the brothers. In the end, the poison is what kills her: the autopsy of the character in a translated version reveals that the poison “burned the coats of [her] stomach and turned her (her brain) quite black.” The young woman’s beauty was transformed into a blackened husk.

Appearances are important. Walter Crane/Wikimedia

In de Beaumont’s version, which she wrote as a lesson for young girls, the Marchioness is attributed some blame for her own fall. Her husband is jealous because she “gad[s] so much”, and enjoys being admired for beauty. Her husband is jealous and tells her to “stay more at home”.

De Beaumont seems almost dissatisfied that she concluded that Madame de Ganges had to comply with her husband, because “lions, tygers, and other wild animals are now tamed; a man has to have a more fierce nature than these animals. This cannot be achieved by a wife who is compliant, prudent, or discreet”. She rewrote the story again, but this time in the form of a fairytale: Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty’s wise choices

This version of “Beauty”, is clearly comparable to the overly beautiful Madame de Ganges. Beauty, like the Marchioness, is willing to go to, but she’s forced to submit to a fierce beast. Beauty, unlike the Marchioness is able to transform the beast into a prince by being “a compliant, prudent and discrete wife”.

uses de Beaumont’s story to critique feminism. Beauty, the youngest sister, is described as “a charming and sweet-tempered creature”, who loves the Beast despite his deformity. The sisters are wealthy and proud, and will not marry anyone below a duke. Beauty is treated so badly by the “wicked creature” that they put onions in their eyes and pretend to cry when she leaves her family home to go to live at the castle of Beast.

This lady said, “Beauty, come and get the reward for your wise choice. You have chosen virtue over wit and beauty, and you deserve to find someone who combines all of these qualities. You are going to make a great queen; I hope that the throne won’t lessen your virtue or make you lose yourself.

The fairy said to Beauty’s sisters: “I know your hearts and the evil they contain. I will transform you into two statues, but your reason will remain the same.”

In de Beaumont’s day, “couverture”, was the law for women. Anne Mellor said that “all woman were legally “covered over” or absorbed in their husbands’, fathers’, brothers’, or sons’ bodies”. She may still have… reason but is effectively silenced, unable to speak for herself.

The writer appears to be suggesting that there were few “happily ever afters” for women in the 18th-century marriage market, and only “judicious choices” could ensure one. Beauty’s sisters chose to place wealth and status over all else. This made them beasts inside and led to their demise.

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